Antonio Pierce: His Career Through the Years

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Everybody loves an underdog story and Antonio Pierce has one. After missing out on the 2001 National Football League (NFL) draft, the Washington Redskin gave him a shot. Pierce was told that he was too short and small to play in the league. But, against the odds, had a relatively successful career.

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His crowning moment came in 2007 when he won the Super Bowl with the New York Giants. After his active career ended, the former linebacker transitioned to coaching and worked his way up. Today, he’s the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. This is Antonio Pierce’s story.

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Antonio Pierce’s Beginnings

Antonio Pierce’s journey to the top of the NFL. Video Credit: The Pivot Podcast

Antonio Pierce was born on 26 October 1978 in California. He grew up in Compton, a neighborhood that was surrounded by gang violence. Pierce managed to stay out of trouble and focused on football. The former NFL player represented Paramount High School, where he played as a linebacker and fullback and received the All-CIF Southern Section Division 2.

The athlete then joined Mount San Antonio College, where he helped the team win the California Community Colleges Athletic Association (CCCAA) state title at the expense of San Francisco City College. Success followed him at the Wildcats, the University of Arizona’s team, where he earned an All-Pac-10 recognition after registering:

  • Three sacks.
  • Two forced fumbles.
  • 77 tackles.
  • One blocked kick and an interception.

Professional Career

Antonio Pierce: His Career Through the Years
Antonio Pierce holding the Halas Trophy. Source: Wikimedia licensed CC-BY-2.0

Despite his relatively successful high school career, Antonio Pierce went undrafted into the 2001 NFL draft. Standing at 6 foot 1, scouts considered him too short and small to play the linebacker position. Nonetheless, the Washington Redskin signed him as an undrafted free agent in the same year.

Pierce started in eight of the 16 games he played within his first three seasons, but things changed in 2004 when the team hired a new defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Speaking to The Athletic, Williams acknowledged Pierce’s significance, hence giving him more game time than he previously got. The player made 114 tackles, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and interceptions.

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New York Giants

After what can now be described as his breakthrough season, Pierce moved to the New York Giants in 2005. In an interview with The Athletic, Tom Coughlin said they bought him because of his skills on and off the pitch. He described him as an excellent thinker and a coach on the field.

During his first season, he got regular playing time, featuring in 69 games. Contrary to his slow start at his previous team, the Giants trusted Pierce’s defensive abilities, allowing him to captain the defense.

In his first season, he played 13 games and returned 41 yards and 80 solo tackles out of 100. Unfortunately, his season ended early after suffering a leg injury. The following season, Pierce was unstoppable, recording better numbers.

The Calif. native achieved a career-high tackles of 139, including 109 solo tackles, and played all 16 games, defending nine passes. This performance earned him a place on the Pro Bowl team. 2007 culminated in a Super Bowl title for the Giants and Antonio Pierce, who was influential in getting there.

After four wonderful years, the team let Pierce go and he subsequently decided to end his nine-year career.

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Football Analyst & Coaching

After ending his active playing career, Antonio Pierce worked as a football analyst before becoming the head coach of the Long Beach Poly High School football program in February 2014. Here, his impact went beyond football as he also tried to help the players in other aspects of their lives – socially not to land into legal trouble.

That said, his career started well, but in the next two years, he failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 36 years. In December, Pierce resigned from the job in 2017 to take up a linebacker coaching position at Arizona State University (ASU).

During his second season, Pierce was promoted to the co-defensive coordinator position. In no time, the team was ranked first in Pac-12 defenses, which is why he later became the solo defensive coordinator of the team.

Unfortunately, just as he was starting to assert his authority, he resigned after the ASU was involved in recruitment violations, which authorities believe were driven by Pierce.

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Las Vegas Raiders

Antonio Pierce: His Career Through the Years
Antonio Pierce. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-2.0

Not long after he left ASU, Antonio Pierce landed an NFL job with the Las Vegas Raiders. This is a team he’d always wanted to be associated with. In a piece in The Players Tribune, Pierce recalled watching Raiders as a five-year-old and how the team shaped his view and perspectives of the game.

As a linebackers coach, he led the team to a 3-1 record against its AFC West opponents, scoring the franchise record 63 points. That saw him promoted to the interim head coach position after the former coach, Josh McDaniels, was fired.

He won his debut game against the New York Giants and followed that with wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Although they didn’t get to the playoffs, the organization was convinced that Antonio Pierce was the right man for the job and made him the head coach in January 2024.

Pierce’s Mindset

In his article in The Players Tribune, Pierce has promised to give his all to the team and he expects every player will do the same. He’s on a mission to build a dynasty that will be feared and respected.

So far, his record is admirable, having tightened the team’s defense, getting them to fifth (+6) in turnover margins from -8 they had under the previous coach.

Antonio Pierce’s determination says a lot about him. For someone whose ability to make it to the NFL was doubted by scouts, he’s shown that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. The Los Vegas Raiders fans should expect interesting times under him.

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